Marcus Smith was brainstorming in his seventh-floor corner office at Charlotte Motor Speedway nearly two years ago, contemplating the future for the track’s second annual Cup race.
Held a few months after the All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600, the Bank of America 500 was lacking some luster.
“I thought, ‘You know this race needs something special,’ ” the Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO and president said on the most recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “It was really overshadowed by the other two races.”
From his overhead view, Smith’s gaze fell on the road course running through the infield of the 1.5-mile track, and inspiration struck.
“Hey, I got an idea … this is ridiculous,” Smith said. “Why don’t we revive the old road course and race NASCAR on the Roval? We need a road course in the playoffs, and I thought this would kill two birds with one stone. Take out an intermediate 1.5-mile track and add in a road course, so mission accomplished. That’s how it happened.”
His first pitch was to NASCAR chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell.
“I called Steve and said, ‘Are you sitting down?’” Smith said. “He said, ‘Man, that’s a crazy idea, but I kind of like it.’ Just kept pushing from there.”
The original plan was to bring NASCAR to the road course last year, but “there was a lot of resistance” from drivers, owners and manufacturers. Sunday’s debut as the cutoff race in the first round of the playoffs will happen 20 months after the first test on the layout.
Though it’ll mark the first road course added to NASCAR’s premier series since Sonoma Raceway in 1989, the Roval is a throwback for Smith. It uses 90 percent of the layout that once played host to IMSA sports cars 30 years ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The track was in the process of renovating the road course for amateur driving and manufacturer testing before accelerating it into a multimillion-dollar project to lure NASCAR.
“When I was a kid I loved coming to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Camel GT race,” Smith said. “We haven’t had that back since the ‘80s. We had Porsches, Jaguars and all these great 24 Hours of Lemans-type cars. So we started working on just improving and modernizing the infield road course. If nothing else, it would be a place to drive fast cars and enjoy it.”
During the podcast, Smith also discusses:
–his reaction to Cup drivers feeling daunted by the layout;
–Mario Andretti’s advice on the track and how a Porsche 918 put the racing legend behind the wheel there;
–why he believes road courses are the new short tracks.